Sunday, 17 May 2015

Coburg State School's Memorial Garden

Image courtesy Coburg Historical Society. Image R2_1_5C.001. This photo is taken looking north towards the main school. It is believed that these were then the gardens belonging to the Infant School, although they now make up part of Bridges Reserve. 

I've been trying to find out more about the memorial garden planted in memory of the old boys of Coburg State School who died in World War One, which was planted to the south of the Coburg State School's Infant School (on the south side of Bell Street).

Coburg Infant School, c. 1980. Image R.2.50. Image courtesy Coburg Historical Society.

Recently I spent a day at the Public Record Office of Victoria looking at various school files and I found a number of items of interest, including an early planting scheme for the Infant School garden. It is hard to tell now whether this planting scheme was ever put into action, but it seems that at least some of it was.

The Infant School was built in 1911 after the land was cleared of a thick covering of thistles. 

This plan was prepared by the School Committee in 1915 and drawn by a pupil of the school. It shows that as well as cypress trees, the plantings around the periphery of the school grounds were to include Acacia Pycantha (Golden Wattle), Acacia Baileyana (Cootamundra Wattle) and Acacia Mollissima (also known as Acacia Pubescens or Downy Wattle). The letter accompanying the drawing reveals that because the school grounds were unfenced, earlier tree plantings (at least six cypress trees (Cupressus Horizontalis Labertiana) were planted in 1913) had been destroyed by wandering cows etc. 

On Friday 8 October 1915, Arbor Day, the Mayor, Mayoress and various Councillors planted 10 cypress trees and 4 Acacia Mollissima. Members of the School Committee, teachers and pupils planted wattle seeds.

(Source: Public Record Office of Victoria, Victorian Public Record Series 640/P1, unit 1444)

At work in the Coburg State School garden, 1911. Image courtesy Coburg Historical Society. Image 15862.

The school was an enthusiastic participant in the State Schools Horiticultural Society's activities and at the time of the plantings, the Society's organiser, Cyril Isaac was based at Coburg State School. 

So keen was the Head Teacher, J.E. Sheehan, that he and Isaac intended to make the school a 'model school in agricultural and horticultural work.' One of their first big tree plantings was on Arbor Day 1913 when the Premier, the Hon. Mr Evans MLC, planted six Cupressus Horizontalis Lambertiana along the boundary of the Infant School. I have recently spoken to someone who lived in Russell Street and he remembers climbing cypress trees along the Infant School boundary in the 1930s. These were probably the same trees.

Towards the end of the war, in late October 1918, the memorial garden to the old boys who died in World War One was planted.

Brunswick and Coburg Leader, Friday, 25 October 1918, p.4.

Tree planting ceremony, Coburg Infant School, October 1918.

This photograph comes from a souvenir of the visit of the French Mission to Melbourne in October and November 1918, only weeks before the Armistice was signed. The exact date of the Mission’s visit to the school is unknown, but it probably took place on Wednesday 23 October 1918.

Although identified in the souvenir only as an ‘Ecole de l'Etat à Melbourne’, the accompanying newspaper article confirms that it was taken at the Infant School at the time of the tree planting.

My investigations into this now lost memorial to Coburg's war dead continues. Expect to hear more!

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